During the Ebola crisis that began in 2014, doctors in the United States relied on a small wireless digital stethoscope for auscultation (i.e., listening to internal sounds of the body). The stethoscope, known as Thinklabs One, allowed them to auscultate safely while wearing a full PPE suit. Now, healthcare facilities are again depending on Thinklabs One to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections in frontline health providers.

A traditional acoustic stethoscope relies on a plastic disc, known as the diaphragm, that vibrates when hit by sound waves. This amplifies the sounds, traveling to the listener’s ears through a rubber tube connected to tubular metal earpieces. Rather than plastic, Thinklabs One uses an electromagnetic diaphragm that transfers sound waves to an electric field sensor within the handpiece, allowing for digital transmission to a listening device.

In hospitals, physicians, nurses, and other care providers use Thinklabs One every day. The device fits in the palm of the hand and transmits sound to earbuds via cable. For “Safe Auscultation,” a term trademarked by Thinklabs, providers can listen to patients in the same room from a safe distance using headphones and an extension cable, Bluetooth headphones, or a Bluetooth loudspeaker.

A provider wearing total-body PPE, which includes a full head covering, can wear earbuds and “snake” the extension cord out through the leg or sleeve of their body covering. Some providers choose to wear Bluetooth headphones underneath their protective hood, or use the loudspeaker option when fully suited. The Bluetooth connection can also reach beyond the room, so additional providers can listen in on a speaker, minimizing the number of clinicians potentially exposed to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

Thinklabs founder Clive Smith began developing his first digital stethoscope in the 1990s, after learning that the design of the standard stethoscope had barely changed since it’s invention in 1816. The first Thinklabs digital stethoscope debuted in 2003.